November 8, 1999

Puerto Rican nationalists deny links to Cuba

                  SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Puerto Rican nationalists on Monday
                  angrily rejected a report that said Cuba directed the island's guerrilla groups,
                  suggesting instead that the revelations were timed to brand them as terrorists.

                  "It doesn't surprise me that this comes out now," said Elizam Escobar, a
                  New York City artist who was among 11 Puerto Rican nationalists freed in
                  September under a much-criticized clemency by President Clinton. "It's a
                  desperate effort by politicians and law enforcement agencies to criminalize
                  the independence movement."

                  The Hartford Courant said Sunday that the freed nationalists were members
                  of two groups created in consultation with Cuban intelligence agents. The
                  groups bombed more than 120 U.S. targets with Cuban support since the
                  1970s, the newspaper said.

                  Those released were members of the U.S.-based FALN, the Spanish
                  acronym for Armed Forces of National Liberation, and Los Macheteros, a
                  Puerto Rican-based clandestine group whose name means "The Cane

                  "Numerous court-authorized interceptions of conversations ... have
                  determined that the Cubans support and direct the Macheteros at a firsthand
                  level," the Courant quoted a 1980s FBI memo as saying.

                  The Courant said its FBI files came from an investigation of the Macheteros'
                  1983 robbery of $7.2 million from a Wells Fargo armored truck in West
                  Hartford, Connecticut -- at the time, the biggest-ever U.S. robbery.

                  But Jorge Farinacci, a San Juan lawyer who served three years' jail for
                  conspiracy in the robbery, denied allegations of a Cuban link.

                  "I can assure you that there was never any phone call that I knew of which
                  could identify or conspiratorially link the Cuban revolution to Los
                  Macheteros organization," he said. "If there had been one, I would have
                  known about it."

                  Cuba received a third of the stolen money, the newspaper reported. Only
                  $80,000 was ever recovered.

                  In a new book, former Cuban espionage agent and defector Jorge Masetti
                  says he was involved in shipping $4 million of the Wells Fargo money to
                  Havana inside a diplomatic pouch from the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City.

                  Masetti's book, "El Furor y El Delirio" ("The Fury and The Delirium"), says
                  Cuban agents loaned the Macheteros $50,000 for "an operation" in the
                  United States before the robbery.

                  The Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., which acts as Cuba's
                  Embassy, told the Courant its information was "more science fiction than
                  anything else."

                  In Puerto Rico, nationalists said their links to Cuba were confined to Cuban
                  support for Puerto Rico's independence from the United States -- support
                  that predated Fidel Castro's 1959 communist revolution.

                  Norman Ramirez Talavera, who served time for his role in the Wells Fargo
                  robbery, asked why the FBI hadn't used its Cuba information against him
                  and others at trial.

                  "This article is trying to say that the actions of a patriotic Puerto Rican
                  organization were planned in Cuba, which is totally false," Talavera said.